My mother, Jerry, died in 2001. She was one tough lady - and one cool chick, and she was a survivor who always persevered, despite blindness, diabetes, and multiple forms of cancer. But one thing she couldn't overcome was a failing heart. She had heart valve replacement surgery a year before she died. It was a terrifying ordeal, frankly, as she did not come through the surgery well and was on life support far longer than she should have been. She spent a couple of scary weeks addled, thinking she was a little girl, back on her grandparents' homestead in 1920's Oregon, picking flowers and hanging out with Hank and Bunk and the rest of the cowboys she knew as a child.
But even after that, her mind came back to it's usual high clarity and she stayed with us for another year, meeting her goal of reaching the REAL new millenium. (She had no patience for those who celebrated the turn from 1999 to 2000.) But, in March of 2001, my mom - my hero - passed away. Her able mind and quick wit sadly no match for an ailing heart.
I remember, just a week before she died, I was in Las Vegas with a delegation from the former Soviet Union. My mom was raised in Vegas before it was Sin City - when it was mostly dust and desert, filled with Mexican workers brought in to build the first casinos. She remembered running into Gary Cooper - literally - as a small child (she smacked into him, running down a street, and he'd turned to pick her up - he had the most beautiful blue eyes, she told me again and again.) Later, she saw Clark Gable, dressed in a heavy red-and-black buffalo-checked jacket, with a rifle slung over his shoulder. He was headed out to hunt in the foothills of the mountains, where old silver mines and ghost towns dotted the landscape. Mom even recalled the annual veterans' parade, with old men who'd fought the Civil War.
The Civil War.
My mother was a child of the remnants of the Old West. She hated cities and the East all her life, and she would have been perfectly happy with a pile of books in an old cabin on the edge of a desert somewhere - as long as there were mountains nearby. Ruts in her father's front yard were the marks of wagon wheels come to the end of the Oregon trail. She was carried around in a covered wagon on cattle ranches as a baby. Her summers were spent at Gramma and Grampa Castor's Oregon homestead where the "ice box" was actually a crate left to dangle in the cold water of a fast-moving stream and the standard issue clothing for a kid for the whole season was "one pair of overalls and a sun hat". (And it makes me smile to think she'd become a woman who liked to discuss quantum mechanics and got irritated when too much fantasy crept into her science fiction reading...)
But Vegas changed from the dusty desert town she grew up in, and the casinos and the ugliness that swept into Vegas had kept Mom away for the rest of her life, once she left Nevada in WWII. She never let us go there as kids, despite our whining and begging. We got as close as Reno, where her father and stepmother had retired. And that was it.
I called mom from Vegas that week in March. I could tell she was having trouble breathing - her words were ragged and few. I didn't waste the time given. I didn't tell her the city seemed much better than the Sodom and Gomorrah she remember it turning into. I didn't tell her I'd had the bizarre chance to see Bill Gates dressed up as Harry Potter and one of his minions as a Jedi knight so they could get people excited about a stupid videogame system. I didn't tell her about my Russians who jumped into the hotel pool in dirty underwear and stole grocery bags of food from the "manager's reception". Instead, I just told her I loved her and then described the desert sunset of reds and oranges and the mountains falling into a velvet purple. All she said was, "Look at my mountains for me."
That was the last full sentence my mother ever said to me. I never saw my mother's living face again. I never heard her speak again except in single words or ragged gasps of air as her heart gave out. I didn't make it home in time the day she died. I missed her by an hour. And that's something that will eat at me forever. And right now, as I write this, I'm filled with anger and a deep sadness and something very primal that doesn't have a name.
It will fade, but it will never go away.
And now, my brother EdGeo and my sister the Shopaholic are both suffering from failing hearts. I wonder every day if I've spoken to them for the last time. And they are both relatively young people. I don't think they even have mountains for me to look at for them. And that fills me with sadness again.
My sister, Nurse Rachet - she of the chicken farm and the arthritis-fused thumb, is going to undertake a walk for the American Heart Association this coming week. I'm amazed she has time to do it, and that she feels well enough to do it, as she just had her thyroid removed on May 13th. (And, lo and behold - it was discovered, after the fact, to be cancerous. Jesus Christ in a chicken basket, folks.) I'm scraping by right now, but, in honor of my mother, and my sister, and my brother, I'm going to use the moolah from a rebate check I just got from something I bought in the before time - when I had a job - to sponsor her for this walk.
If you have $5 to spare, please consider sponsoring my sister for this walk. This link takes you to my sister's sponsor page. (And those of you with a sense of humor and an appreciation for 60's sitcoms will be amused by my sister's name.) It's tax deductible, for y'all here in the United States.
I hope next year to be doing the same thing for the American Diabetes Assocation. But for now, it's a chance to say thanks for the hearts already lost, and those I'm afraid I'm going to lose, and those we will all yet lose - or save. Iffen you sponsor my sister and don't have someone you'd like to honor, I invite you to offer it in my mom's name. I'm sure she'll smile down on you for it. Her name was Geraldine N. Jordan. Or, Jerry Hardman, if you please (she'd probably prefer that!) You can always find my mom on Google if you enter "Geraldine Hardman WASP" and see her flying days recognized.
No smartass caption today. Just appreciation...
Thanks for considering this, and, regardless, thanks for reading my blog, in its infinite self-indulgence. I appreciate you dropping by.